Theodore's World: Mahdi Army Attacks Opposition and Iraq Leadership

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March 27, 2008

Mahdi Army Attacks Opposition and Iraq Leadership

Muqtada al-Sadr

Map locating the four cities where Mahdi Army fighters fought with Iraqi and US forces Tuesday.

IMPACT: Shiite enclave back on edge

BAGHDAD..AP report

Shiite militiamen are everywhere. Police and Iraqi army checkpoints are nowhere in sight. U.S. soldiers are keeping their distance.

Sadr City — the Baghdad nerve center for the powerful Mahdi Army — is suddenly back on edge as the militia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, and Iraq's government lock in a dangerous confrontation over clout and control among the nation's majority Shiites.

The epicenter of the showdown has been the southern oil hub of Basra, where clashes have claimed dozens of lives this week and al-Sadr's forces face a Friday deadline to surrender.

But a more finely tuned measure of the tensions may be found among the one- and two-story homes and shabby storefronts of Sadr City. As the crisis deepened, The Associated Press toured Sadr City on Wednesday to observe its rapid swing from relative quiet to a return of the Mahdi Army swagger before the U.S. military troop buildup in Baghdad last year.

Sadr City — named after Muqtada al-Sadr's father, who was assassinated in 1999 — is seen as critical to the overall stability and security of the capital.

A resurgence of Madhi Army attacks and opposition could roll back the gains that have allowed Baghdad residents to take cautious steps toward normal life and offered Washington hope of accelerating troop withdrawals.

But recent days have resurrected old challenges.

Al-Sadr's militia forces, estimated at about 60,000, now seem itching for a fight. The current crisis came to head over U.S. and Iraqi raids that have detained hundreds of Mahdi Army loyalists even as the group maintained a shaky cease-fire since August — which the Pentagon has credited for helping bring down violence.

The tensions have spilled over into street battles in Basra between Mahdi fighters and Iraqi government forces. Fighting also has flared in other cities across southern Iraq's Shiite heartland — where Iran is hedging its bets by supporting factions of the Mahdi Army and its main Shiite rival.

Mahdi fighters also are blamed for a series of rocket barrages on the U.S.-protected Green Zone, which was hit again Wednesday. The Pentagon appears to want no part of the current troubles. Commanders worry that American troops could be drawn into difficult urban conflict, sapping energy from the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents.

U.S. forces have made only sporadic stabs into Sadr City, choosing instead to strengthen a security cordon on the outskirts. U.S. commanders, meanwhile, have a limited presence in southern Iraq and show no signs of diverting soldiers — as they did in the last major fight against the Mahdi Army in 2004.

"We are a different force than the one you saw in 2004," a senior Mahdi commander said at his Sadr City home.

"We are now better organized, have better weapons, command centers and easy access to logistical and financial support," added the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Squatting on the floor next to two of his fighters, the commander sipped sweet black tea as a U.S. helicopter flew low overhead. A burst of gunfire rang out at one point. Another moment, he listened to the screech of a rocket.

"That's going to the Green Zone," he said.

When one of his fighters left the house, he warned about driving too close to American patrols on the edge of the district — a grid-pattern of teeming streets in northeast Baghdad built in the 1950s to house poor Shiite workers.

It was first named Revolution City. Then it became Saddam City. After Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003, it was designated Sadr City after al-Sadr's father, Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, whose death is blamed on Saddam agents.

"Don't be too impressed with what the Americans have. We can still win because we have faith and a just cause on our side," said one of the two militiamen in the commander's home.

Sadr City, home to 2.5 million people, looked like a place bracing for battle.

Its streets — normally crowded and noisy — were oddly quiet. Beside the militiamen, only youngsters were out in large numbers, playing soccer on dirt fields. Most stores were shuttered.

The militiamen, some wearing ammunition belts and sporting two-way radios, were out in full force dressed in a ragtag collection of tracksuits, jeans and pajamas. But they carried the essential firepower for effective street conflict: AK-47 rifles or grenade launchers.

Some stood behind rickety market stands with machine guns perched on top. Snipers took up position on rooftops. Others drove in pickup trucks fitted with machine guns.

Many curbs showed traces of disturbed asphalt — usually a telltale sign of freshly planted roadside bombs. Streets were barricaded by rocks, metal furniture or burning tires. Lookouts on motorbikes relayed the latest movements of U.S. armor deployed nearby.

Mahdi Army commanders have told the AP that the militia has recently taken delivery of new weapons supplied by backers in Iran. The arsenal, they said, included roadside bombs, anti-aircraft guns and Soviet-designed Grad rockets.

They also said an infusion of cash, also from Iran, helped the militia set up new command centers equipped with Internet-linked computers, fax machines and satellite mobile phones. They have also received global positioning system devices, they said.

The United States has long accused Iran of providing Shiite militias in Iraq with arms and training. Iran denies it.

Aides to al-Sadr in Baghdad insisted the Mahdi Army cease-fire remained in force, but warned of dire results if Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government continued its crackdown against Mahdi militiamen.

"There will be grave consequences," said Sheik Salman al-Feraiji, al-Sadr's chief representative in Sadr City.

"We are not going to stand by and watch our sons getting killed," he told tribal leaders at a mosque. "You must tell the government that you will disown it if it doesn't stop the operations in the entire south."

Al-Sadr's movement gained ground in Sadr City in the immediate aftermath of Saddam's ouster. It quickly filled the vacuum left by the regime's fall — and Washington's lack of postwar planning — by running basic services and clamping down on looting in a district that had once been notorious for high crime and unemployment.

The militia is not universally popular in Sadr City because some of its men are involved in extortion and kidnapping. But the Mahdi Army is credited by most residents for protecting the district against Sunni militants during the height of Baghdad's sectarian war in 2006 and early 2007.

The bond between Sadr City's residents and the militia was on display Wednesday, with families offering fighters water, tea and food.

"Today, a family sent us rice and meat for lunch," said another militia commander, who identified himself only by the nickname Abu Ali and said he was one of 12 who oversee the Mahdi Army operations in Baghdad and the south.

Al-Sadr's support was instrumental in helping al-Maliki clinch the prime minister's job in 2006, but the two men fell out about a year ago.

"Down with al-Maliki's government," is now common graffiti in Sadr City. "The Dawa party is treasonous," declared another one, referring to al-Maliki's party.

This is the report from Reurters

14 killed, 140 wounded in Baghdad's Sadr City

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Fourteen people were killed and more than 140 wounded in clashes between security forces and Shi'ite militants in Baghdad's Sadr City slum, a medical source said on Wednesday.

Another UPDATE:

U.S. airstrike in Iraq reportedly causes 60 casualties


Amid heavy clashes between government forces and Shiite Muslim militants in Baghdad and the southern port city of Basra, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki issued an ultimatum Wednesday demanding that the militias surrender their weapons within 72 hours. Radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr , whose Mahdi Army militia is a prime target of the government offensive, responded by demanding that Maliki leave Basra.

U.S. forces joined Iraqi troops in Baghdad to fight Mahdi Army militants, and police said that at least 20 people had been killed in the Sadr City neighborhood, a stronghold for Sadr's backers.

The city's fortified Green Zone sustained a third round of intense mortar fire beginning at 5:30 a.m. that seriously injured three U.S. government employees, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy. A mortar round struck near Maliki's office.

With barely functioning hospitals and people holed up in their homes it was unclear how many people had died in Basra. According to health ministry officials in Basra, at least 33 people had been killed and 150 had been wounded in the fighting.

Maliki stipulated in his ultimatum that the militants would be spared if they surrendered their weapons within 72 hours. Sadr called for calm, asking Maliki to leave the Mahdi Army-dominated oil hub of Basra and send a parliamentary delegation to solve the crisis through dialogue, Sadr spokesman Hassan al Zargani said from Tehran, Iran .

In Baghdad , Mahdi Army-dominated neighborhoods remained sealed off, angering residents who couldn't open their businesses, get to hospitals or send their children to school.

Wild Thing's comment........

I sure wish Muqtada al-Sadr was no longer consuming oxygen. I sure hope they can use this chance to take down Mookie and his “army” once and for all, if he is still in Iraq.

Posted by Wild Thing at March 27, 2008 12:40 AM


This Imam Sadist is uglier than the Geico Cavemen!
No wonder they blow themselves up in order to get poontang from 72 supposed virgins? Whose the first virgin to bat in the eternal batters box? YUK!! Any DENTISTS in Babylon? How does one say 'oral hygiene' in Arabic? He can drink with a straw without opening his jaw?? Yeah, we're the infidels... the one's that have dental bennies and use razor blades?

Posted by: darthcrUSAderworldtour07 at March 27, 2008 03:00 AM

We need to take some action against Iran. The Sadr militia admits openly about the weapons and money support it gets from Iran. This needs to be stopped for the war in Iraq to be successful. Strikes against Iranian air and naval bases might get their attention. Full and open support of the anti government forces in Iran would also help make the Iranians too busy to support insurgents in Iraq.

Iran is to Iraq what Cambodia was to South Vietnam. A sanctuary that the enemy operates from and gets support from. The world knows that the Iranians smuggle weapons and fighters inti Iraq. We can justify retaliatory strikes against selected targets in Iran to interrupt that flow of support.

Posted by: TomR at March 27, 2008 08:03 AM

Mookyman needs to be shot right between the eyes.

Posted by: Lynn at March 27, 2008 11:27 AM

This war from Iran started where 52 U.S. diplomats were held hostage for 444 days from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981, after a group of students took over the American embassy in support of Iran's revolution, of which Amajinedad was one of the ringleaders. Thank you very much eunuch Jimmy Carter for 29 years of peace. Yep, just let the UN handle our security. What would 'president McCain' do?

Posted by: Jack at March 27, 2008 02:14 PM

Darth, hahah he sure is, his bad teeth oh my gosh his breath must make camels faint.

Posted by: Wild Thing at March 27, 2008 06:04 PM

Tom, yes, I agree so much, and what you pointed out too about "Iran is to Iraq what Cambodia was to South Vietnam" a good example of what is going on in this war.

Posted by: Wild Thing at March 27, 2008 06:08 PM

Lynn that would be such great news if that could happen.

Posted by: Wild Thing at March 27, 2008 06:10 PM

Jack I have been wondering that too, what does McCain have to say about this, I would like to know. Will he defer to the UN? Will he see how much Iran is very much a part of this war? Just wondering here too.

Posted by: Wild Thing at March 27, 2008 06:13 PM

Well WT, I'm the wrong guy to ask "what does McCain have to say about this". I watched McCain give a speech yesterday, on C-span I think. He sounded like Bush one minute about going the distance in the WOT, then he was expounding from the other side of his mouth about how the US has to listen to others in the world community, and has take a more diplomatic approach. He also mentioned joining forces to fight global warming and providing more aid to the South American Community to build a stronger bond between Canada, the US and our Southern neighbors. I've made my mind up about him for El Presidente, each and everyone else will have to make their own decision. He sure isn't my choice for a leader, he's an appeaser and I'd bet he's going to defer to:

1. The UN on all defense matters.
2. The Hague on current POW's and their trials
3. His fellow Democrats on any decisions in the furture.

He isn't a maverick, he's a Democrat to the right side of the left fringe, who IMO will assume autocratic rule once in power.

Seems to me the public has forgotten who invaded Kuwait in 1991 and who set the Kuwait oil fields afire, who fired Scud missiles into Saudi Arabia and Israel and also the public has forgotten that Saddam Hussein did not abide by UN Resolution 687, the UN brokered ceasefire. They too have forgotten that Saddam ignored the ceasefire for 12 more years and many more UN resolutions, 8 of those years while Clinton was in office, all the while the UN negotiated with Saddam who refused to negotiate or honor the ceasefire, a little matter of oil for food money and UN corruption at the highest levels. Forgotten too are the attempts by George Bush to negotiate through direct and indirect means with Saddam and his regime, it was always one more line in the sand by Saddam. 12 long years of 'Diplomacy' got us into Irag. Once the coalition was formed and Congress granted Bush the power to invade, the slimeball Democrats abandoned Bush and the troops to go it alone. I'll ask one question, how many years of negotiation with Iran before they nuke either Israel, the US or both? McCain has sided all too often with the left and will not enjoy my support any more than I'd support another Jimmy Carter, John Kerry of that tub of guts Ted Kennedy.

Posted by: Jack at March 27, 2008 10:10 PM